Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

New Media and Disasters. (Personal Computing)

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

New Media and Disasters. (Personal Computing)

Article excerpt

During a disaster, where is the first place you should turn for information? You might think the Internet would be ideal. After all, it was set up by the military in the 1960s to ensure communications during a nuclear war. Yet, as recent events have shown, during a crisis other media do a better job at delivering breaking news than the Internet.

Still, there are things the Internet is uniquely suited for.

The Internet's biggest problem stems from its very nature. Unlike TV networks that send one signal to millions of TV sets, Web sites have to send millions of signals to millions of computer screens.

Web sites thus get overloaded if they receive too many visitors. During the hours immediately after the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the top news sites were completely bogged down. The Internet's most popular news site, CNN.com, received 162 million page views on the day of the attacks, 12 times more than normal, according to the site.

Millions of people in offices throughout the country, without easy access to TV or radio, tried to find out what was happening through their computers, often without success.

Some of the big news sites tried coping by slimming down the size of their pages and adding servers, but this helped only marginally.

Television did a better job of providing second-by-second coverage of the events. What's more, while the major Web news services had to scale down their content to provide any service at all, the television networks beefed up their programming to satisfy information-hungry viewers.

Once you go beyond breaking news at big-name sites, what the Internet is exceptionally good at is providing depth. "In the same way people turn to newspapers instead of TV for more depth, people turn to the Internet," says Steve Outing, an online publishing consultant from Boulder, Colo.

On the Web, for instance, you can conveniently read overseas news sources, which provide a different, and sometimes eye-opening, perspective. If you're so inclined, you can view shockingly graphic images that the networks don't carry.

With the Internet, "you're not as dependent as you were once were on hearing things that someone else wanted to tell you," says Ed Trayes, a Temple University journalism professor.

But the Internet's most distinctive advantage is its personal nature. On Sept. 11, personal Web sites, sometimes called Web logs, sprang up with eyewitnesses providing first-hand accounts of the tragedy, unfiltered, from their own unique perspectives. …

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